Justification: The Essential Doctrine (Romans 8)

“It is for this very reason there is no condemnation for those united in Christ Jesus, who no longer walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the previous vicious cycle of sin and death. For God has done what the law could not do, weakened as it was by human nature. He sent His own Son in the similitude of sinful flesh to atone for and pass sentence upon our sins, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully satisfied those who do not allow their lives to be regulated by carnality but rather by His Holy Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4 paraphrased)

By the time Paul writes Romans, he has already endured over twenty years of intense and challenging ministry. He has delivered the Gospel to Damascus, Tarsus, and Antioch. He has journeyed to numerous places, including Ephesus, Macedonia, Perga, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Troas, and Athens. He is destined to send correspondence to the churches in Galatia, Thessanonica, and Corinth. At various times the apostle will be mocked, ridiculed, falsely accused, shipwrecked, and incarcerated. He is harassed in Cyprus, Berea, Caesarea, and faces assassination plots at Damascus, Jerusalem, and Macedonia.

Paul, now in his late 50’s, has become a well-seasoned minister of the Gospel of Christ. The time has come to write a doctrinal statement developed from his rich experiential knowledge. While at Corinth during his third missionary journey, he pens this letter to the Romans. After its completion, he will live only another seven years before he is martyred in the capital city of Rome.

The eighth chapter of Romans is the dynamic climax of everything Paul has written to this point. It not only sums up the entire epistle, it is the most precious jewel of the New Testament. It is actually the capstone of the entire Bible. The theme of the chapter is deliverance from sin through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Many fundamentalists think chapter 7 merely describes the frustrations Believers experience every day. But the previous chapter graphically describes the turmoil of an unbeliever. Chapter 8 has a very close connection with the final question of chapter 7 concerning deliverance from sin. Paul declares the answer to this question is Jesus. If Paul was describing the Christian life, why would he cry for a deliverance he already had? Those who “live” in Chapter 7 have not really ever really lived in Chapter 8. Those who “camp out” in Chapter 7 do so because sin is more attractive than the Spirit-filled life described in this next chapter.

The key word in chapter 8 is “Spirit” (pneuma). Although it is used 13 times in all the other chapters of Romans combined, it appears 21 times in chapter 8. This is more than in any other Bible chapter.

Many people wonder if God is justified in condemning sinners. Consider the following logic:

1. We are all born into moral depravity.
2. We are separated from God because of this.
3. We not only think evil, we perform it.
4. We deserve judgment unless we are acquitted.

Romans 8 is a matter of life and death. Whereas the law promotes spiritual death, the Holy Spirit promotes life. Although Paul expects Believers to persevere for Christ, salvation does not destroy ones free will. Laws cannot produce holiness, but tend only to irritate, agitate, and frustrate human beings. Laws are impersonal, but Jesus is a personal Savior. Since the tendency of mankind is to sin, God sent His Son to give human beings a reason to not want to sin.

Who or what will regulate a person’s life? Can anyone really trust their conscience to be their guide? If the entirely of chapter 7 is viewed as a question, chapter 8 holds the answer. It is here we find how sin is dethroned and Jesus is enthroned. Although we make mistakes, the sweet guidance of the Spirit of God leads us from a life of condemnation into a life of sanctification. Chapter 8 increases our faith by giving us assurance, consolation, and hope.

v. 1
The chapter division is here because Paul’s focus now turns almost exclusively to the topic of the Holy Spirit. The apostle begins by describing the character of those who belongs to Jesus.

“Deliverance” in the last verse of chapter 7 is a pivotal point in Paul’s logic. There is “no condemnation.” “No” (ouketi) is emphatic, meaning no type of condemnation whatsoever. Paul does not claim we do not deserve judgment. The difference is that sinners must face judgment day in the future, but the redeemed have had their sins judged by Christ in the past. Jesus said those who know Him “will not come into condemnation, but have passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24).

The elimination of “condemnation” (katakrima) not only means the eradication of guilt, but that sin has been completely dealt with by the crucifixion of Christ. Only after being freed from condemnation are we free to walk in the Spirit. “Walking” can be interpreted as “lifestyle.” The Holy Spirit operates as a “still small voice” (I Kings 19:12), never forcing anyone to do anything. Those who are truly born again enjoy a life led by God’s Spirit for they seek to please their Redeemer. 

v. 2
Paul explains why there is no condemnation for Believers. In the previous chapter, he describes the slavish obedience to ordinances as “the law of my mind” (7:23). A similar expression is found here as “the law of sin and death.” The solution is “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” This is actually a matter of life and death. The basis of our freedom is expressed in this single verse and serves as the theme of the entire chapter.

The Incarnation accomplished everything the Old Testament laws failed to do. “Law” is used in this verse to indicate a principle rather than a specific set of rules. Paul refers to “the law of faith” in Romans 3:27 and in Galatians 6:2 to “the law of Christ.”  When Jesus explains God’s plan of salvation to Nicodemus, He tells him he must be “born of the Spirit” in order to enter the Kingdom of God (Jn. 3:5). “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” here indicates the higher plane we are now privileged to live on. As we “walk in the Spirit we will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

Without Calvary there is no salvation, but without the Holy Spirit, there can be no personal application. Only those who pro-actively choose to be baptized in the Spirit can enjoy a full and vibrant Christian life. 

At a superficial glance, God’s laws may appear imperfect and impotent. No code, even if sent from God, can offer true redemption. Legalism cannot redeem anyone. It was part of God’s “planned obsolescence” to establish grace in place of law. The weakness was not in the law God established, but in human nature. The law had no power to pardon or forgive sin. But what it could not accomplish, Jesus did accomplish. The intent of chapter 8 is to prove Jesus alone did what the law could never do.

The bondage of legalism was broken through the implementation of a higher law. Those who have accepted Christ desire to live after His example. Believers remain “in Christ” as long as they obey Him. The redeemed are pictured as:

“abiding in Him” (Jn. 15:1)
“hidden in Him” (Col. 3:3)
“walking with Him” (Rev. 3:4)
“risen with Him” (Col. 3:1)
“sitting with Him” (Rev. 3:21)

Paul told the people in Antioch of Pisidia several years before writing to the Romans that they could never be justified through the law of Moses (Acts 13:39). It is God’s desire to “write His laws in our hearts” (Heb. 8:10). Romans chapter 8 shows how this can be accomplished. Sin is the disease only the Great Physician can cure.

v. 3
Although the law could command, demand, rebuke, and reprimand, it had no ability to counter man’s depravity. The primary function of law is to detect sin rather than subdue it. The law was inept because it could do little except stir up human carnality. This resulted in aggravation and frustration. In the end, the law will judge the individual for sinning. In Christ, the righteous demands of the law were met. The indwelling Spirit allows every obedient Believer to grow in sanctification.

Jesus came “in the likeness of human flesh,” but not in carnal flesh. He appeared as ordinary as any other man. There was nothing physically extraordinary about Him (Isa. 53:2). However, His human nature was perfect and He “knew no sin” (II Cor. 5:21). Though capable of sin He was not guilty of sin. The specific mission of Jesus was to deal judicially with sin through His atonement. For God to become a man was the most tremendous condescension in history. But He lowered Himself still further to become the sacrificial Lamb of God for our sins (Jn. 1:29).

The term “flesh” in the New Testament is almost always associated with the carnal nature of man. But all sinful flesh is represented by the sinless flesh of Christ. It is His condemnation of sin on Calvary that saves sinners from condemnation. He was the perfect sin offering because He took on our nature to “nail sin to the cross” (Col. 2:14). For those who have died with Christ, death and hell can lay no claim.

v. 4
The law is deemed “righteous” (dikiosune) because it was God who implemented it. “The law was holy, just and good” (7:12) because it revealed how God views sin. Without His laws on the books, it was impossible to humankind to comprehend right and wrong from God’s perspective. Jesus said, “This is the judgment, that light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil” (Jn. 3:19). The true value of the law is to detect sin and show how it offends God.

Christ’s sacrifice answered what the law demanded but could not provide. Redemption fulfills the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:26 where God states, “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes.” Only one who “walks” or lives under the direction of the Spirit can be truly “dead to sin but alive unto God” (Rom. 6:11).

Maxim of the Moment

The bankrupt man is the man who has lost his enthusiasm. - H.W. Arnold